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  • Linda R. Taliaferro

Should You Code Switch?

Recently on the Being Brown at Work Live podcast, I had the pleasure of speaking to Angela Thompkins. Angela leads the diversity, equity and inclusion and strategic talent sourcing teams for Consumers Energy. She was recognized as a 2020 Michigan Chronicle women of excellence honoree, and she was 2021's top diversity officer by the Energy Inclusion Conference. She's been an automotive lobbyist trial attorney and an adjunct professor, and she is fabulous. We had a great conversation about code switching on the podcast, and I wanted to pull a few key points of our conversation for you into a blog, because she is such a treasure trove of information. Check out the podcast for the full conversation!

Code-switching is what happens when black folks change the way they speak and act with their co-workers, peers, and leaders in formal institutions. This might mean using a different "phone voice" to receive better customer service, or avoiding certain phrases and expressions you'd use talking to friends but not with your boss.

Code switching is exhausting.

Angela shared her history with code switching, and I think a lot of Black and Brown women can relate to how exhausting and stressful she felt trying to constantly flip between identities. When you code switch, you are trying to be everything your environment wants you to be, which means you can't truly be faithful to yourself.

Express yourself authentically.

If you want to stop code switching at work, you have to identify who you are and what your standards are. In Angela's case, she knew she loved dressing stylishly. Boring suits were not ever going to be her thing, so once she realized how tiring it was to pretend to be something she wasn't, she started dressing up. Fun blazers, chunky jewelry, cute shoes, these were all things she could wear to bring her authentic self to work.

When you express your authentic self, work feels different. Showing up as who you actually are can be frightening, but once you do it, the feeling is powerful. Your confidence changes, your posture changes. Authenticity and confidence carry a lot of weight in the business world, so expressing yourself authentically will actually make you a stronger, more powerful player on the board.

Speak in a way that feels natural to you.

Language is one of the biggest aspects of code-switching. Some black folks don't use vernacular phrases at work, worrying it will make them seem less educated. The assumption is that AAVE (African-American Vernacular English) is somehow "inappropriate" for the workplace. Angela and I both feel that you should speak in a way that feels natural to you. If that means throwing in a few "slang" words, go right ahead. Obviously, there are always going to be phrases and sayings that aren't appropriate for anybody to say at the office, but talking the way that feels easiest and most natural for you is a part of showing up authentically.

Being who you are means bringing your whole self to the workplace, and that extends to the way you look, speak, and act. When you lead with authenticity, you lead better. It’s as simple as that.

If you need help identifying your authentic self and the ways you can bring it to your professional life, let’s connect. Click here to put a one-on-one with me on your calendar.

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